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The Los Angeles Lakers made the biggest splash of the NBA offseason Sunday, agreeing with LeBron James to a four-year, $154 million contract.
But they didn’t stop there. Team president of basketball operations Magic Johnson has made a slew of moves to rebuild a Lakers roster around James in the last 24 hours, and he doesn’t appear likely to be finished.
Recapping the Lakers roster moves
Here’s where things stand and what the moves might mean for what’s next in L.A.
Almost immediately after the James deal was announced, the Lakers agreed with swing-man Lance Stephenson to a 1-year, $4.4 million deal. Former Golden State Warriors center JaVale McGee was next in line to join team LeBron, reportedly agreeing to a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum .
The Lakers also retained free-agent guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with a 1-year, $12 million deal.
On Monday, the Lakers reportedly renounced the rights to restricted free agent Julius Randle, who was rumored to not want to be a part of the the Lakers rebuild and agreed to sign with the New Orleans Pelicans shortly after. Around the same time, news broke that former Pelicans point guard Rajon Rondo was signing in L.A. on a one-year, $9 million deal.
What do these moves mean for the Lakers?
First, it means that the Lakers are likely done with big free agent signings. ESPN’s Bobby Marks reports that the deals have left L.A. with $5.6 million in cap space for next season.
The Lakers built enough room under the salary cap to lure a pair of high-priced free agents this summer, but no longer have the space for a max-level player after the multitude of signings in the last day.
What about Kawhi Leonard?
The lack of cap space does not mean that the Lakers are out of the hunt to trade for San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard. But it doesn’t seem likely.
The Spurs would probably have to take on Luol Deng’s $18.8 million contract in a trade, a favor San Antonio is not wont to do for its conference rival. With James signed to a long-term deal and Leonard facing free agency next summer and reportedly intent on joining the Lakers, Johnson may be content to roll the dice and hope to land Leonard without giving up assets in 2019.
What about Lonzo Ball?
Ball may be the most fascinating domino yet to drop in light of Monday’s Rondo signing. The Los Angeles Times reports that Rondo signed with the information that he would compete with Ball for the starting point guard position.
Rondo doesn’t seem the type to join a team to be a backup, and the Lakers didn’t spend the No. 2 pick in the draft last year on Ball to have him come off the bench. So something has to give.
Ball has long been believed to be the odd man out if James did join the Lakers. A young, ball-dominant guard is not the best teammate fit for James. And, probably more importantly, James doesn’t seem the type to have the patience to put up with the nonsense that comes with Lonzo’s father LaVar Ball.
So Ball appears to be a prime trade candidate if the Lakers find the right partner and the right deal.
Why this roster around James?
The Lakers roster as currently constructed seems an odd one to build around James. James thrives in an offense where he can kick the ball out to open shooters, and Rondo, Ball and Stephenson are all notoriously poor perimeter shooters.
Brandon Ingram, Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart are capable 3-point shooters, but this is not a cadre of gunslingers that can hope to compete with the Warriors and Houston Rockets in the West.
Stephenson and McGee have checkered reputations as teammates and decision-makers that don’t jibe with James’ stated desire to play with teammates with high basketball IQs. James appeared to be jabbing at J.R. Smith when talking about desired traits in teammates after the Cleveland Cavaliers got swept out of the NBA Finals.
“I felt like my first stint here, I just didn’t have the level of talent to compete versus the best teams in the NBA, let alone just Boston,” LeBron said of the pre-2010 season. “When you looked at [Rajon] Rondo and [Kevin Garnett] and Paul [Pierce] and Ray [Allen], you knew they were great basketball players. But not only great basketball players, you could see their minds were in it, too, when you were playing them. Rondo was calling out sets every time you come down. It was like, ‘OK, this is bigger than basketball.’
“So not only do you have to have the talent, you have to have the minds as well.”
While James’ statement in hindsight seems a precursor to the Rondo signing, it also raises questions about some of the other moves the Lakers have made since signing him.
The Lakers are not ready to compete next season, especially in light of the Golden State Warriors signing DeMarcus Cousins.
What seems certain is that that the Lakers aren’t done making moves around James. Whether it’s tweaking the team now for next season or planning for another big splash or two next summer, Johnson and the Lakers’ quest to build a contender around James looks far from complete.
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